A Letter from the Executive Director, Anne Sweeney

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once said, "There cannot be true democracy unless women's voices are heard. There cannot be true democracy unless women are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their own lives."

Today, March 8th, is International Women's Day. Around the world, people are celebrating the achievements made by women of the past, present, and future.  At Heshima Kenya, we inspire the women and girls in our program to contribute to the conversation with regard to their rights and to recognize that their dreams and hopes do matter.

As government elections take place in Kenya this week, our hope is for elected officals to grab hold of this opportunity to create more informed laws for the Kenyan people.  People lined up for hours, many at dawn, to cast a vote with the hope that their choices will ultimately result in a stronger economy, increased stability, and better education and health care for their families.

Coexistent to the elections is a controversial directive that the government issued last December forcing urban refugees to relocate to refugee camps.  This directive was targeted mainly at Somalis due to a series of violent incidents which occurred along the Somali border and in Nairobi this past year.  We at Heshima Kenya have been working diligently with our critical partner organizations to fight the directive which, as a result of these efforts, is currently held up in Kenyan court. Whether this action is backed by the full weight of the government's conviction or was merely a reactionary feint, we are optimistic that Heshima girls and others needing help in the future will be granted the right to remain in Nairobi and receive life saving support.

As we talk to activists, reporters, and government officials in Washington to share more about the conditions on the ground in Nairobi - and the special programs of Heshima Kenya - I am constantly reminded that the most articulate voice guiding our side of these conversations belong to the girls in our program themselves.  And it is because of their courage that we have been able to impact the conversation at an international level and the campaign to support their rights grows stronger.

This demonstration of courage is seen daily through girls like Fatuma Aden, an 18 year old aspiring journalist who is currently enrolled in our programs in Kenya. Though shot in the shoulder before coming to Heshima Kenya, two weeks ago we were able, through your support, to sponsor surgery for Fatuma with the goal of restoring functional mobility to her hand. Fatuma says that the first thing she wants to do when she can once again hold a pencil is write about her ideas and experiences.

These stories highlight only a small selection of the hardships and successes of the more than 400 girls and women, including their young children, who have participated in our programs since 2008. These are the young women we at Heshima Kenya celebrate and honor today, on International Women's Day. 

Help us celebrate - buy a scarf, make a donation, or simply share these stories.

Very warmly,

Anne